Reviews | Written by Rachel Knightley 13/07/2020



Available for the first time in the UK in a strictly-limited-edition of 2000 copies, The Masters of Cinema label lives up to its name with its HD Blu-ray 2-Disc box set triple-bill of Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat, and The Raven. All three titles are of course based – some famously loosely – on the work of Edgar Allan Poe; all feature Bela Lugosi, fresh from Dracula; but they’re also the final cry of the depiction of Pre-code studio horror, with levels of sadistic imagery soon to disappear from Hollywood. Even if we’ll never be scared by the imagery as audiences would have been when these titles were released in the 1930s, there’s an eternal chill to the stories and imagery that would be visually referenced in cinema ever after. And, of course, in two of these three, Lugosi is pitted against Frankenstein‘s Boris Karloff, adding to the self-referential celebration of all that was and remains great about the cinematic Gothic.

Picture quality alone would make this box set an opportunity not to be missed. However, the wealth of additional material is brought together with the same level of care and celebration of the titles, their heritage and context. Whether you’re a lover of the stories that provided the kick-off to these very different adaptations, or found Poe through cinema, Kim Newman’s typically enjoyable and effortlessly informative interview contextualises with typical depth and friendliness to keep any viewer feeling fully in the picture. Newman’s interview alone would double the value of any release but there are further treats with, among others, the video essays of Lee Gambin on Cats in Horror, and American Gothic by Kat Ellinger. Audio commentaries on the films themselves are by Gregory William Mank, Amy Simmons, and Sam Deighan, with radio recordings of The Tell-Tale Heart involving Karloff and Lugosi also included.

While they won’t scare a modern audience as they would then, the visual beauty and the power of the images from the stories lose nothing – of Poe’s fundamental terror, cinema’s sadistic innocence, or of Lugosi and Karloff. Even if you know all three 1930s releases, you don’t know them like this.